Charles Braden, Colonel USAF (Rtd), Chairman of Braden Aerospace, was sixty.
His secretary, Connie, the same age, managed without contrivance to resemble a woman twenty years younger just off a twelve-hour flight. She'd pleased him in bed for fifteen years, unflappably supported him at work, was used to handling powerful men, but her voice quavered as she buzzed him. `I think it's a hoax, but it could be the President.'
`Soon tell you. Put him through.'
`Dougie? Jeez, you gave my girl a stroke.'
`She wouldn't put me through. I get that a lot. Then the penny drops and it's God Bless America. See how people need something to believe in? Now listen. I need your butt over here.'
`Don't tell me the Commander in Chief's after some washed-up gunship pilot?'
`Affirmative. Your country calls. But I can't go into details on this line. I'll send someone to set it up. You owe me one, remember?'
He'd dragged President Douglas Jessop to the Spectre Association reunion, insisting that he postpone an important meeting in Mexico to attend. The retired air force men who'd come to relive great days past had no idea he'd conned the most famous of them along, although they possibly wondered why the street was half blocked off. What a night!
`And Chuck, forget the company jet. I'd like you to fly the bird here. My press secretary needs you high-profile. Media circus is part of the plot.'
`They'll say I'm angling for the ATGM contract.'
`I'll hose that down. So - look forward to it. Gotta go, good buddy. Bye.'
Braden replaced the handset slowly, dismayed to find he felt flattered. He'd thought he was past that crap. It was just Dougie after all.
His secretary burst in, red-faced. `Was it... him?'
She slumped against the doorframe, hand to the elegant slope of her breast. `Oh-my-Godddd.'
`What on earth did you say to him, Connie?'
`Don't even go there.'
Braden watched her trim rear as she left, wondering what the call meant. He was at the top of the food chain, but this wasn't about campaign funds. An aerospace query? Unlikely. There were better sources of information.
What had Truman said? 'If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.'
Jessop was in a bind. Needed a buddy.